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Foster Care FAQs & Glossary

What is foster care?
Licensed foster care is made up of individuals or families who have requested to be able to take dependent children into their home. Foster homes are licensed and inspected regularly, and foster parents go through a rigorous interview process before being approved.
Are the kids in foster care there because they did something wrong?
No. Kids in foster care are regular children who, through no fault of their own, need to live temporarily outside of their own homes while their parents learn new skills and address safety concerns.
Who can be a foster parent?

Foster parents must be at least 21 years old, pass a background check, complete training, and receive a home study. Foster parents must be able to use sound judgment, like a prudent parent, and demonstrate a responsible, stable, and emotionally mature lifestyle.

What is a foster parent’s role?

Foster parents provide a temporary, safe, and stable home for children who have experienced abuse and neglect and whose parents need time to learn new skills to become the parents their children need them to be. Foster parents care for and meet the meet the physical, emotional, and social needs of children in foster care.

The intent of foster care is to safely reunify children with their families. Foster parents are expected to work closely with the birth parents, when possible, as well as with the county department of human/social services with legal custody, the Guardian ad Litem, and service providers.

Who are the children and youth in foster care?

The majority of children enter foster care due to abuse, neglect, or other family problems. Children and youth in foster care come from diverse ethnic and cultural populations and are generally birth to 18 years of age (sometimes teens stay in foster care after their 18th birthday). They may have special medical, physical, developmental, psychological, and emotional needs, low self-esteem, poor hygiene, or poor academic performance. The child or youth may belong to a sibling group or be an only child.

Are foster parents paid to care for children and youth placed in their homes?

Foster parents receive a monthly reimbursement to offset the costs of providing food, shelter, clothing, and other related expenses. The rate varies and may depend upon the age of the child and the level of care they need. The foster parent is not expected to pay for medical or dental care. These expenses are generally covered by Medicaid.

How long are children and youth in foster care?

A child or teen may be in foster care for one night, several months, or in come cases, several years. Every effort is made to reunify children with their parents. The time spent in foster care is dependent upon each parent’s situation and their ability to engage in services to keep the children or youth safe so that they can be reunited.

Children may leave foster care to live with a relative or another adult with whom they have a significant relationship. This is called kinship care.

How is it determined where a child lives?

Ideally, placements are made with foster families based upon the compatibility of the child’s needs with the family in question, as well as the skills, resources, and location of the foster parent. Human services agencies strive to find a foster home near the child’s parents’ home to encourage frequent visitation and involvement. Human services agencies also look for a foster family who lives near the child’s school or in the same school district.

What about contact with the birth families?

Depending on the area, it is generally encouraged to have contact between foster parents and birth parents based upon the treatment team’s recommendation. Sometimes “icebreaker meetings” are scheduled at the beginning of placement to allow the foster parents and birth parents to meet and focus on the needs of the child. Topics may include foods they like or dislike, interests, routines, and other important information that will reduce the trauma and help with the transition into the foster home.

Contact with the birth family can reduce anxiety and help address loyalty issues for children in foster care. There are many levels of contact, which may include:

  • Sending written information about the child or youth
  • Telephone calls
  • Face-to-face contact
  • Inviting and transporting parents to appointments
  • Coaching on parenting techniques that work for the child
*Adapted from CO4Kids Foster & Adoption FAQs

Foster Care Glossary


Abuse: Harm inflicted on a person through physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual means; may cause victim to develop emotional or behavioral problems, some of which may not appear until later in life. Help from an experienced counselor or therapist may be needed to work through abuse issues.


Adoption: A legal process in which parental rights of a child are granted to adoptive parents.


Adoption Certificate/Decree: Also known as the Certificate of Adoption, this is the document that is signed by the presiding Judge upon finalization of the adoption. This official document allows for a new birth certificate to be issued for the adopted child by the appropriate authority. This new birth certificate will reflect the child’s new information (name, adoptive parents, etc.) and will replace the original birth certificate.


Case Management: The ongoing follow-up and review of the safety and well-being of a child who has been removed from parents or caregivers. A child who is in out-of-home care will see a case manager at least once a month, and the case manager will work with the parents, the child, and the child’s current caregivers to determine the best interests of the child.


Case Plan: The court document that all parents or caregivers of dependent children must follow. Case plans have goals for the parents and the child so that the parents can reunify with the child and safely care for him or her.


Caseworker/Social Worker: Individuals that assist foster and adoptive parents with the foster or adoption process. They are responsible for many things throughout the process, such as completing home studies and counseling.


Child Protection Team: Conducts forensic interviews and medical exams of children to determine if they have been abused or neglected.


Child Protective Investigator (CPI): A child protective investigator checks into allegations of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children by their caregiver. The investigator will interview the child, caregivers, and other contacts to determine if a child is safe or not. If a child is not safe, the CPI can remove the child from the home.


Closed/Confidential Adoption: An adoption in which neither the adoptive parents nor the birth parents have any identifying information regarding each other. 


Dependent Child: A child who has been removed from their home and needs to be under state supervision. This child could live with a relative, non-relative, or in foster care.


Disruption: A situation in which, for whatever reason, an adoption has not become final even though the adoptive parents were identified as the parents to adopt the child and the child may have even been placed in their home for a period of time.


Dissolution: An overturning or termination of an adoption after it has become legal.


Finalization: The stage in the adoption process at which the court awards parental rights to the adoptive parents.


Foster Care: Licensed foster care is made up of individuals or families who have requested to be able to take dependent children into their home. Foster homes are licensed and inspected regularly, and foster parents go through a rigorous interview process before being approved.


Foster Child: A foster child is a dependent child who is has been removed from their parent or guardian and is living in a licensed foster home.


Foster Parents: State-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children in state custody whose birth parents are unable to care for them.


Group Home: A home for several foster children that is licensed by the state. Group homes are run either by house parents who live with the children, or by shift staff who transfer in and out every 24 hours.


Guardian ad Litem: A volunteer advocate for a dependent child in court. This advocate is represented by an attorney and speaks to the judge on behalf of the child they represent.


Home Study: The in-depth review prospective foster or adoptive parents must go through to be able to legally adopt. A home study typically includes evaluations of the prospective parents’ relationship, inspections of their residence, parenting ideals, medical history, employment verification, financial status, and criminal background checks.


Independent Living: A program for teens in foster care that prepares them for adult life.


In-Home Care: Some children are under state supervision, but are able to safely remain in their own homes with regular case management.


Licensing: The licensing process includes interviews with prospective foster parents, a home study, and a review of financial records, among other things.


Legally Free: A child whose birth parents’ rights have been legally terminated or relinquished so that the child is free to be adopted by another family.


Legal-Risk Adoption: The placement of a child in an adoptive home when the birth parents’ rights have not yet been voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.


Medicaid: The federal program that funds health insurance for low-income families. Medicaid covers the health and dental care that is needed for children in foster care.


Neglect: Failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision–to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.


Non-Relative Placement: A child who has been removed from their parent or guardian and placed with a family friend. Non-relatives are not eligible for additional funding.


Open Adoption: Birth parents and adoptive parents in the process of an adoption are given information that could be used to identify them.


Out-of-Home Care: This term includes all children who have been removed from their home and are living with a relative, non-relative, or in foster care. 


Parental Rights: All legal rights and corresponding legal obligations that come with being the legal parent of a child.


Permanent Guardianship: Many children will be placed in permanent guardianship, usually with appropriate relatives, if the parents’ rights have not been terminated but the child cannot safely return home.


Placement: Describes the point in time when the child goes to live with his or her legal adoptive parents.


Post-Placement Supervision: Upon placement, a caseworker will be assigned to complete post-placement supervision of the adoptive family. The caseworker will visit the home several times over a set period (according to state requirements) to determine if adoption of the child was in the “best interests of the child.”


Private Agency: An agency licensed by the government in whose jurisdiction the agency operates. Private agencies generally operate on a fee-for-service basis.


Public Agency: An agency funded by the government in whose jurisdiction they operate. Most services provided by public agencies are provided at no cost, but for some services there may be charges.


Relative Placement: A child who has been removed from their parent or guardian and placed with a relative. Relatives can get some funding to help with the child’s expenses through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.


Relinquishment: When a birth parent voluntarily forfeits his or her parental rights to a child. The parental rights are typically transferred to an agency, rather than directly to new adoptive parents.


Respite Care: Childcare and other services designed to give parents temporary relief from their responsibilities as care givers.


Reunification: The process of returning a child who has been removed from the home back to his or her parents or guardians, and ensuring that the child will remain safe. Reunification is the case goal plan for the majority of children who are removed from their homes.


Social Worker: Depending on the state, designation as a social worker means that an individual has earned a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) after successfully completing four years of college. An individual with a Master’s degree in social work (MSW) has completed a graduate program and is eligible to pursue licensure.


Special-Needs Adoption: An adoption where it is known or suspected that the child may have a disability of some sort; this term may also be used when the child or children are hard to place (i.e. sibling set, older kids, etc.).


Therapeutic Foster Home: A foster home where the parent or parents have received special training in dealing with a wide variety of children with special needs. Parents in therapeutic homes are supervised and assisted more than parents in regular foster homes.


Waiting Children: Children in the care of the public child welfare system (children and youth in foster care) who cannot return to their birth homes and who need permanent, loving families to help them grow up safe and secure.


Information adapted from http://www.adoptachild.org/common-adoption-terms